Having devoted an inordinate number
of hours, days, weeks and years
to textile-based adventures,
it slowly becomes clear
that I am endlessly alert for--
and susceptible to--
those elusive moments
when material, story and manual skill come together.
that a few weeks ago in the canyon
when I came upon a thicket
of tall, hollow, prickly, dead stalks
growing where I picked nettle leaves last spring--
stalks that split lengthwise,
have a pithy interior that snaps into sections,
sections I can peel off in chunks
to reveal a swath of shiny golden fibers,
fibers that can be twisted into cordage--
"Are you a nettle?"
and botanical sources were not at hand,
so I did some experiments --
twisting it damp.
twisting it dry,
removing the outer cuticle,
leaving it on.
I relish the lustre and strength of the fibers.
But they are also unexpectedly brittle,
and when I try to imagine them woven
into soft, flowing fabric, finer than linen,
Consulting my internal store of fairy tales,
(so useful when Google is not available),
I wonder how swans who had once been young men
could possibly get fabric made of these fibers over their wings?
It would be too stiff.
Strong to be sure, but stiff.
"No," says the Fiber. "I am not nettle."
who does not know what this plant is either,
at least from a photo of the stalks and my cordage samples.
and some vague directions,
and a few days later on the banks of the Snake River
among willow and teasel,
bramble and grass
I find tall, hollow, dead stalks
with opposite branches and a distinctive reddish hue.
and are definitely not nettle,
though they are apparently toxic to various animals,
so, like nettle and thistle (my mystery fiber-producing plant),
can be seen by some as an herbaceous 'pest'.
exactly what I'm looking for.
The stems split lengthwise,
to reveal a pithy interior
that snaps into sections I can peel out
(thistle practice improved my skill),
to release a swath of shiny golden fiber,
none very well, by me, as yet
but well enough that eventually
I hold a small bundle of something I want to spin.
and I managed to get some sections that are quite long.
It is easily twisted into cordage and would--
with a few hundred years of practice and steady use--
make a fine shirt for a brother transformed into a swan--
would, indeed, make a fine shirt for anyone--
if dogbane (qeemu to the Nez Perce),
were the stuff of European Fairy tales,
rather than of the First People of this part of North America,
who have have used this fiber for time out of mind
to tie the world together.
You Can't always get what you want.
But if you try sometime
you might find,
you get what you need.
I wanted nettle,
And maybe when I pick nettles for tea and supper
perhaps I'll harvest some of the fibers while green.
But for now,
I got thistle (like me, a non-native species),
and dogbane (a thrilling local adventure-in-waiting),
some interesting cordage,
and useful experience.